Every September there is a two-week national sumo tournament held in Tokyo and when I was in the city last year I was fortunate enough to have a ticket for one of the tournament days. If I remember correctly it was Day 8. Having also attended the tournament in 2017, I knew what to expect and in the morning I made my way to the Ryogoku Kokugikan (sumo arena) where the tournament was being held. A long line of flags stood outside the arena and I noticed a multi-lingual sign stating that all of the day’s tickets were already sold, so anyone hoping to grab a last-minute ticket was out of luck for that day. With my ticket in hand I passed through the entrance and headed inside the arena. In the arena’s foyer the staff were still getting everything set up for the day and before going into the seating area I paused to check out the trophies on display.
The morning hours of the tournament are when the lower-ranked wrestlers have their matches and during that time the ushers don’t care where you sit, (as long as you’re not trying to sit on the cushions right next to the wrestling platform) so I found myself a seat with a good view just a couple of rows back from the action. Although the guys wrestling in the morning usually aren’t as big or experienced as the afternoon wrestlers, you still get some really good matches in the morning when two guys of similar skill go head-to-head. Most matches are over in less than ten seconds—usually one wrestler quickly gains the upper hand on the other wrestler—but that morning there were several that lasted about thirty seconds and at least two that were over a minute long. Being up close allowed me to see much more clearly how the matches played out, and as a nice bonus I got some decent photos too.
After spending about an hour down by the wrestling platform I went up the stairs to the arena’s second level. The view from up there is still fairly good and you get a different perspective on the wrestling than the people sitting in the lower level have, but you’re further back from the action and you’ll want a good zoom lens if you’re trying to take photos from up there. I wandered around the upper level for a few minutes, taking photos as I walked around, and then returned down to the lower level to locate my official seat. In 2017 my ticket was for a chair in the upper level but in 2019 I had scored a lower level seat. I can’t read Japanese, but looking at a seating map I was able to match the characters and numbers on my ticket with ones on the map and soon I was able to track down where I’d be sitting in the afternoon. My official seat was about halfway between the wrestling platform and the back row of seats, and after taking a mental note of the seat’s location I left the arena to do a little bit of sightseeing before returning in the afternoon.